The construction industry experienced modest growth in the third quarter of 2018, following a weather-related boost to activity in Q2, according to a quarterly survey of product manufacturers, contractors, civil engineers and SME builders by the Construction Products Association (CPA). However, rising materials and labour costs, economic uncertainty and a narrowing forward workload is causing concern
The CPA’s Construction Trade Survey for 2018 Q3 shows that during the quarter, 27% of product manufacturers, 25% of main contractors, 16% of SME builders and 10% of civil engineering firms reported an increase in activity. Output was reported lower for one-third of specialist contractors, however.
The new orders and enquiries logged in Q3 indicate that the drivers of growth in the next 12 months will be restricted to private housing, repair and maintenance, and infrastructure, whilst further rises in costs have been reducing profit margins for main contractors and specialist contractors since the beginning of 2017. On balance, 80% of main contractors reported a rise in materials and labour costs, 90% of product manufacturers reported an increase in fuel costs and cost rises for civil engineering contractors reached a three-year high.
Rebecca Larkin, senior economist at the CPA, said: “The industry looks to have maintained some of the momentum from its catch-up in the second quarter. However, beneath the top-level growth rate, firms throughout the supply chain are grappling with a narrowing base of activity led by private housing and infrastructure work and rising costs for labour, raw materials and fuel. This triple threat for input costs is placing a clear strain on contractors’ profit margins, worsening confidence in an already-heightened environment of risk aversion.”
Richard Beresford, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders (NFB), said: “The latest trade survey indicates a general increase in construction output, workloads and enquiries for SME contractors throughout the third quarter of 2018. This trend reflects the effect of the unseasonably warm weather in lifting up overall industry performance. The fall in profit margin for 7% of main contractors and 33% of specialist contractors is rather worrying because it is less than one year since the collapse of Carillion. With the economy facing further uncertainty in future months with the UK’s departure from the EU in March 2019, contractors operating with falling profit margins are a reason for concern.”
Key survey findings include:
- On balance, 25% of main building contractors reported that construction output rose in the third quarter of 2018 compared with a year ago
- On balance, 16% of SME contractors reported increased workloads in Q3 compared to three months earlier
- Main contractors reported that order books were higher in private new housing, and the housing and non-housing R&M sectors
- During Q3 new orders fell for 17% of specialist contractors
- 22% of SMEs reported an increase in enquiries in Q3, on balance
- Overall costs increased for 89% of civil engineering contractors, whilst 80% of main contractors reported a rise in costs for labour and materials. Fuel costs rose for 90% of heavy side and light side product manufacturers
- Profit margins fell for 7% of main contractors and one-third of specialist contractors in Q3.